Alabama mega donor blames governor after university returns $21.5M amid abortion law dispute



Philanthropist Hugh F. Culverhouse Jr., an outspoken critic of Alabama’s new abortion ban, is blaming the state’s governor, Kay Ivey, for having a role in the University of Alabama’s decision to return $21.5 million that he had donated to the school. 

Culverhouse, a real estate investor and lawyer from Florida, pointed to Ivey’s seat on the university’s 15-member board of trustees in a Washington Post op-ed written in response to the school’s decision.

The board voted Friday to give back all money received so far out of $26.5 million he pledged last year and to remove his name from the university’s law school, which was named after him.

“Friday’s decision is a charade, as the governor of Alabama, who signed the abortion bill into law, is a voting trustee of the university,” Culverhouse wrote.

He also slammed the university’s administrators for choosing “zealotry over the well-being of its own students,” adding, “It’s another example of the damage this attack on abortion rights will do to Alabama.”

More: He told students to protest Alabama’s abortion ban. The University returned his $21.5M gift.

Culverhouse, the university’s largest donor in its history, has alleged the decision to return the donation was retaliation after he told students to boycott the school to protest the ban. Ivey, a Republican who assumed office in 2017, signed the abortion bill into law May 15.

The university has rejected Culverhouse’s account, arguing the money was returned because of an unrelated dispute. 

University officials and the governor’s office did not immediately return messages from USA TODAY seeking comment about his latest accusations. 

Culverhouse, 70, called for the boycott on May 29. That same day, the university issued a news release saying it was in an “ongoing dispute” with Culverhouse over the way his gift was to be handled and that the school’s chancellor recommended the money be returned. The school said the recommendation was made made the day before his call for a boycott. 

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Culverhouse called university officials “liars” over that account in an interview with the Associated Press.

Alabama’s new law would make abortion at any stage of pregnancy a crime punishable by 10 years to life in prison for the provider, with no exceptions for rape or incest. It’s the strictest of a series of abortion laws passed or considered this year by Republican-dominated state legislatures eager to have the Supreme Court revisit the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. 

Culverhouse, who describes himself as a political independent, did not attend Alabama but his parents did, the Associated Press reported. The university’s college of business is named after his father, Hugh Culverhouse Sr., a wealthy tax lawyer and developer who owned the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The younger Culverhouse responded to passage of the abortion ban by issuing a statement that said, “I don’t want anybody to go to that law school, especially women, until the state gets its act together.”

Culverhouse, in his op-ed, said his father was an officer with Planned Parenthood in Miami in the 1950s and is certain he would have spoken out against the Alabama legislature’s recent actions on abortion.

He said passage of the new law “wasn’t just an attack against women, it was an affront to the rule of law itself” and that he plans to join a challenge 

He said students will ultimately be the ones harmed the most by the university’s decision to return his donation. 

“Fewer students will have scholarships that could provide resources for them to unlock their potential, and administrators have sent a message to young women that their agency is not respected or valued,” Culverhouse said. 

“And for what, to send a message that the school doesn’t respect the very law it purports to teach?”

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